How JFK and C. S. Lewis Influenced My Life

3dman and DNA

Two men I’ve been reading about for virtually my entire life but for very different reasons died on the exact same day. For more than 50 years, I have been learning about the life and thought of both President John F. Kennedy and Christian thinker and author C. S. Lewis.

What follows is a brief biography of these two twentieth-century giants and an explanation of how they became so important in my life. I think you will benefit from knowing about these two men whose lives influenced millions.

John F. Kennedy (1917–1963)

“Jack” Kennedy, as he was known to his family and friends, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. He served in World War II, was a representative and senator in the US Congress, and became the 35th president. The high mark of his presidency was probably his successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, where some think his leadership kept the world from engaging in a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

My parents were new Catholic converts and Kennedy Democrats in the early 1960s and the president’s assassination was the first great historical event of my young life. I have more than 50 books in my personal library about Kennedy’s life, political views, and shocking assassination.

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)

“Jack” Lewis, as he was known to his family and friends, was born in Belfast, Ireland. He served in World War I, taught English literature at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and became one of the greatest Christian authors in history. His fictional writings rank among the best-selling books in history and he became a celebrated BBC broadcaster during World War II. C. S. Lewis died of cancer on November 22, 1963.

C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was the first Christian book that I ever read back when I was in college. It had a significant impact on my then newfound faith and it sparked my interest in studying Christian theology and apologetics. Similarly, I have more than 50 books in my personal library about Lewis’s life, beliefs, and writings.

A Fateful Day

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that I discovered that both men had died on the same day: November 22, 1963. While reading Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft’s provocative book Between Heaven and Hell,1 I learned that Kennedy, Lewis, and philosopher Aldous Huxley had all died the same day. (There’s a saying that celebrities die in threes.)

I have wondered who had the greater influence between Kennedy and Lewis. They’ve both become legendary figures with an enduring popularity. But their influence lies in different spheres and is thus difficult to measure and compare. Twenty-five years ago I would have thought Kennedy’s largely political influence was greater. But today I’m inclined to think Lewis’s spiritual influence may be more significant.

I have visited both men’s homes and graves. Kennedy seems to have been a nominal Catholic but may have been pondering the bigger questions of life just prior to his death. Lewis thought that five years after his death he would be forgotten, but his books sell better today than they did when he was living.

It is interesting to me that I have spent so much time learning about two deeply influential men of the twentieth century with very different lives, beliefs, and accomplishments, yet both died within hours of one another on the exact same day. They entered eternity at the same time. I wonder what their last thoughts were before death and their first thoughts after death.

Christians believe that despite all of its tragedies and troubles, God is the ultimate author of history. And for me, real-life history and biography is every bit as fascinating as fiction (for which Lewis is celebrated) is to many other people.

Reflections: Your Turn

Which contemporary historical figures have had a big influence on you? Why?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1982).

  One thought on “How JFK and C. S. Lewis Influenced My Life

  1. jamesbradfordpate
    November 20, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

    • November 20, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks, James.

      Ken Samples

  2. Charles
    November 21, 2018 at 5:38 am

    I remember well, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated – I was in the 8th grade when the announcement was made over the school intercom. It was devastating to us kids to think that someone would want our president dead. I wasn’t a Christian yet, but that horrible event made me think deeply about death and my own moral foundations.
    From the 6th grade to about the 10th grade, I devoured biographies, reading just about every book in the school library on scientists, inventors and, explorers, as well as great athletes and musicians. Of these, probably Thomas Edison is the one person who had the most influence on my choice of a professional career (engineering). My hometown of Port Huron, MI was also Edison’s boyhood town and the city has a museum dedicated to his life and work which I have visited several times as well as his house and laboratory in Fort Myers FL where many of his inventions were developed.

    • November 21, 2018 at 10:25 am

      Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Charles. Engineering is a great field.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  3. Mr. Kelley Clausen
    November 22, 2018 at 5:31 am

    Ken, thanks for your thoughts! Very interesting.

    I also remember JFK’s assasination vividly. I remember years later looking at the newspaper my parents kept of that day and looking at page two to see Lewis’ death announced.

    Had no idea of Huxley’s.

    Remembering how Princess Di and Mother Theresa’s same day deaths, too. They represented opposite ends of life and significance but God’s sovereignty seemed to highlight the life contrast that day. You may be inferring something similar: Lewis looked eternally and heavenward, JFK seemed to look to overt political power and carnality, Huxley seemed more akin to JFK but (I THINK Inam right) atheistically. A three-legged contrast.

    Thanks, Ken.

    And Happy Thanksgiving. We’re greatly grateful for the house full we will have today and for eternal benefits and rewards through Christ.

    • November 22, 2018 at 8:15 am

      Appreciate your memories and reflections, Kelley.

      Happy Thanksgiving.

      Ken Samples

  4. November 26, 2018 at 4:21 am

    Thank you Ken for your well founded remarks on JFK’s assassination. I rember that day clearly and agree it was in a way as significant as 9/11. You mention V. Bugliosi who I once had as a guest on my web based live radio show. As far as people /books that influenced me I would say the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer because he was a modern day myrter who obviously believed in God’s promises that exist outside the 4 dimension of time and space. The biography “Bonhoeffer” by Eric Metaxas is highly recommended.

    • November 26, 2018 at 7:19 am

      Thanks, Jay. Appreciate your comments.

      Ken Samples

  5. Carol Lavelle Snow
    January 14, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    You asked us to comment on the contemporary historical figures who have influenced our lives. My response will probably be unique as I seldom hear his name mentioned outside the field of western fiction–Louis L’Amour. He and I both studied creative writing under Foster-Harris at the University of Oklahoma, though L’Amour was some years before me.

    Close behind him would be Foster-Harris who was also a western writer–just not as well known. How was he influential? I haven’t sold much fiction, but I’ve had 30+ poems accepted by 10+ journals and anthologies. That’s after I finally figured out what Harris meant when he said our writing should be 3 dimensional. Harris also said he was very proud that someone who’d had a mental breakdown wrote to tell him that one of his stories had been very healing.

    That’s what L’Amour’s novels have done for me. I was depressed after my first husband and I divorced. L’Amour’s books helped me through that black period. He helped me again this last weekend. Some family members did/said some things that hurt and I was was so upset I couldn’t sleep. Took a Louis L’Amour book off the shelf and started rereading it. Within an hour, things were back in their proper perspective.

    That’s what I want my writing to do–make a difference.

    • January 14, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story, Carol.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

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